All Right, Then, Damn It: A Love Poem

Old man next door
Dying from love
45 years married
Wife gone (what?)
About 45 minutes
We say he lost his love
But he looks for her still
Shakes out the laughs
She’s not there
The sunsets, and rain baths
Not there either
Moments of “glad grace”
Jeez, not a friggin’ trace
He stands by the memory chute
But they’re no substitute
I catch him in his car
Staring beyond the driveway
Ask him, “You OK?”
Tells me it’s day-to-day
I know what he means
Man wants to die
Dark hands his only hope
Of seeing love again
There’s nothing that rhymes
Or explains away the unending,
Sharp-stabbing grief —
Which leads me to us
That’s right, you and me
You’ve never asked
What you mean to me
If you did I’d just point
Across the way
You never asked
But for once I tell
You are air and water
And, yes, “shadows deep”
So, now, can we
Get something to eat?
And then later maybe catch
Some serious Zs by the fire?
And murmur, softly murmur,
Our incommunicable joy


Your hair, that hair of yours
No, of course, it doesn’t define you
Curly, bouncing, bold, boyant
Light brown with tints of red
That’s what I said (you set me straight)
People pay to look that way
You didn’t even go to a hairdresser
For ten easy years. Remember?
Perfect prelude to cascading laugh
Sways like a searchlight’s pivot
Lets your eyes shine hope, joy
Toward the children you’ve taught
To old people drawn to warmth
Never like the other girls
Wouldn’t bother carrying a purse
One — that’s right — one pair of shoes
Of the earth, by the sun, to the sea
But what feeds on you eats at me
Right here in Buddy’s Barber Shop
Where photos dim every inch of wall
Tumble down, down like a pyre’s end
“I’m not going to let this beat me. Watch!”
Not if have any say it won’t. (I don’t.)
Love discovers from now back to start
As your beautiful noggin’ steals my heart


To lose a laughing woman
Acquaints you with a silence
That memory cannot fill
Until… Until… Until…

To love a laughing woman
Who’s suddenly taken from you
That’s not the greatest loss (I know)
Although… Although… Although…

Laughter can be manufactured
Unlike happiness, that ghost
Staring across infinity’s field
Conceal… Conceal… Conceal…

To love a laughing woman
Then to lose a laughing woman…
Oh, she’d get tired of this song!
“Move on! Move on! Move on!”

Kate’s Passage

Grief plays by its own rules
An awkward grace works through
“If there’s anything at all I can…”
You could point me toward the surface
For life underwater pre-empts my tears
“Thanks for coming. Thanks. Coming. Thanks.”
Navigate the void each mourning
I made her laugh right ’til the end
Now chisel that on my gravestone
Oh, we were not the perfect couple
But heavens! Did we have fun!
Laughter like that gets God’s attention
Lets his awful grace play in the sun


Sped to those battles
With ghosts and holograms
Those yester-rages remodeled
By this middle-aged grunt
Forever scoring points
Through which poison leaks
And a wealth of elfies
Expose a darkened view
“People are holy,” she prayed
Dusting grace upon my rage
She convenes with angels now
As offenses merely imagined
Grow slights obsessively enhanced
How did I become so toxic?
Choice, or folly, or chance?

One Night in Harpoon Henry’s

When my first wife died I withered and withdrew
And lonely did I scale the couloir of grief
Curling about myself like that indolent snake
Confronting that first wife with cancer’s last claim
Just an overgrown garden snake parked upon our drive

A brown arm’s-spread length of languid reptilian still
A critter I’d never seen before or since that meeting
Curled into a taunt that he hurled at my own girl
Coiling tighter in delight: “The hour’s come for you!”
She died soon after when the siege broke through
And I never really heard the music until its absence
Of delight in all creation—that’s how her voice fulfilled
So what torched despair’s fingers until the grip gave out?

One night in Harpoon Henry’s I kissed a pretty woman
A nice, friendly girl I’d been working with for years
Mouth-to-soul resuscitation seasoning bloodless sleep
That kiss—alone, apart, about. A prelude to nothing
Except the entirety of life. A kiss. That’s it.
Interceding like prayer to caulk my brokenness
Did I ever tell that girl what that kiss delivered?
I now forget (surprise!) how she wriggled off the hook
Can’t even recall the name, just drops of smiling eyes
I am deaf, now. Blind. Can’t bend to tie my shoe
A salty wind-whipped spray gentles this old wheeze
Lets me taste that kiss once more and that is what I’ll ride
You may release your servant, Lord. It is time for me to die. 


Oh Modest Goddess
Let’s spill the tea
Kick up them tunes
Dance close to me
Oh Godless Goddess
Don’t make the bed
Our culture’s caving
Our soul’s unfed
Please salt the deal
When you have time
I salt the still
You salt the vine
I salt the well
You salt the line
I salt the how
You salt the why
I salt the scream
You salt the sigh
I salt the scene
You salt the high
Oh Modest Goddess
You make me smile
Come lie with me
For just a while

The Ache

As I drag our trash
To the edge of our drive
Orange streaks our dawn
In our fortunate sky
Two gamey deer just happen
To turn quizzically my way
Then on they bound just like — Snap!
What DO we talk about
When we DON’T talk about love?
Two cats cloaked in canvas
Somehow getting on — but just
Time to decide which room
Needs a coat of paint today
And when the fumes finally settle
Our bickering takes a break
We tap water into the kettle
Never mentioning The Ache
But in that pause each clutches hope
“Please let me die fore this old dope.”

Labor Day

“What’s the worst
job you’ve ever had?”

Banter ignites in
a near-empty newsroom
after the paper’s to bed

The hours-long slump
from leaving barbecues,
and family in mid-sizzle

To schlep off to work
recedes to memory like
last week’s mild hangover

The scanner’s crackle
punctuates trash talk

Waitress, bartender,
lifeguard, cashier;
don’t even bother

Bouncer, boxer
nude model, and —Yes! —
chocolate factory worker

Now we’re cruising
When Grump mentions
driving a Philly cab

One Labor Day
and getting stabbed
twice in one shift

“I would have called
it a night after
the first stabbing.”

It’s Not Fair

That I should awake each day
Dream-sliding on a bed of my own
And know three meals will be consumed
Washed down with water running through
Drive to my job. Get lost in my work.
Light a votive for my sleeping wife
Praise how she graces my existence
That I can walk in October woods
While leaves descend in tongues of fire
Or by the Atlantic on a summer’s eve
Feel eternity in the soles of my feet
I can laugh (what power!); sing in the shower
And down ice-dazzled beer on Friday nights
That my health so far, so good (knock wood)
Watch my daughter grow proud and strong
Savoring experiences that her path offers
I can read great books or gossip columns
Watch TV by the light of the fireplace
Cherish the beauty of women with proper respect
Find youth-light in the withered faces of the old
And wisdom in a toddler’s pronouncement
That I can stand awestruck in kiss-ling snow
Or listen to rain romancing the streets
Look up at the star-quilt from a country road
And praise all who have hallowed my journey
For vast legions of humanity dead and alive
Aren’t so blest. And it’s not fair! It’s not fair!

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Before our lives implode
I bought some flowers. Here.
And human love often erodes
In hate or drift or fear
Oh, hell, it’s a marriage man (for now)
I’ve grown some foibles, true.
While you’ve sprouted these new interests
Will we make it? Can we take it?
Here comes that cliché again
We love two beautiful daughters
We’re so enthralled by them
So let’s sacrifice happiness now
Our happiness is not the point
And set table by the dark abyss
Of stony days and brokered nights
We swore before God, remember?
Maybe His miracle can still fix us
But maybe not. Let’s tough it through
That’s all I’ve got. And you?


I sing the body electric
With whatever soul I’ve got
I sing of what comes after
I sing of what comes not
Hark! The Herald of the Trite!
Only cash accepted here
Detoured by subjective plight
Around which it’s tough to steer
My God does not forsaken
When mourning greets despair
The void that won’t be shaken
Is just daring you to stare
And if He doesn’t just exist
Then nothing’s all that matters
Where marks the stand for martyrdom?
Where marks the dark surrender?
So, let’s sing the body electric
That springs from happenstance
Let’s sing the everlasting
Let’s sing the Lord of Chance


Cain bushed out the Serengeti.
Neanderthal and lonely, after feasting
for days on his latest kill. Blood and
bone and plenty. Is faith, fear? Fear, faith?
Does it ever really matter?
Squinting across a sea of green
and nearly thinking, “Something’s missing.”
Waiting for the question coming
as he rubs his belly and listens
to a hunter claw a tooth still insisting.
The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life
root stonily in the garden. There’s no kill
like the first kill. No will like free will.
No still like the still of waiting
for judgment surely coming.

On Me, Nephew

Why is there something instead of nothing?
Search for an answer in this foreign brew
Let’s ignore the fallen angels for now
What’s a heaven for? God, that’s who
Something or nothing? Maybe science knows
Sitting dignified, set up for slapstick
Mumble, mumble, mumble — at the end of the bar
Your uncle wants to hear you say
You won’t give in, you’re going to stay
I will never proclaim, “Embrace affliction!”
That would probably get us flagged
Please, please, please — I won’t get through it
Let life wrap you like unredeemable grace
And let’s toast to tomorrow before leaving this place
It’s on me — you just take care of the tip


Beyond the solicitous plains
Rumor rolls like the sea
Revelers behind Gomorra’s walls
Sit at the right hand of progress
Pleasure, comfort busk easily
In fields our spoils harvest
These last six decades now
Mankind summits in our valley
The sun, the rain, the never-ending plains
I should so like to welcome tomorrow
The problem is me not you
But I am so out of place in Gomorra
Where traders, merchants give Ba’al his due
We throw away those old broken hearts
Placing our salt upon the altar
Placing our children upon it, too
I am so out of sync with Gomorra
That I do not know what to do
Do You?


“You stay your age forever.”
Sign now, sit back, watch
These premiums will not change
As indemnification unfolds
October leaves drift like embers
Each snapshot freezes, then evolves
Moral hazard roils and regals
As outliers in mid-orbit pause
Dodging regression to the mean
“Love stays its age forever?”
No, it’s different looking back
That’s no stranger in the corner
Slowly waking from her nap

Overheard at the Dog & Bull in Croydon, Pennsylvania

That’s when I fell from awe and fashioned hell
When HE told ME—the light-bearer—of his plan
To enter history as this thing called man.
Man, that was just too much for me to stand.
What would you do if your boss told you
To report to the Worm? To run it by the Ant?
So this angel of light lit out. Damn! Damn! Damn!
I may be one big-ass crybaby (Dante’s claim)
But I am the sower of the sinner’s stain
And though I can not hack into middle vision
Forget not hell’s gates were forged by my decision
Think your struggle ends the moment when you die?
You can escape my temptings? Simply wave bye-bye?
Everything I say to you cannot be total lie
Hoping your reward mean’s endless boring bliss?
Noble pride downfalls where you flow. I should know.
And eternity means never letting your guard go low
I tell you this for your eyes will one day open
To find the bill for what I drink but forget we’ve